published Sunday, March 8, 2015
Addison â€” â€śThough this be madness, yet there is method in it.â€ť
Zach Dorn, or at least the character he portrays in Miniature Curiosaâ€™s An Excruciatingly Ordinary Toy Theater Show, is the highly caffeinated merger of John Belushiâ€™s boisterous imagination and Richard Lewisâ€™ childhood-based roiling angst. Beating within that comedic confluence is the heart of Geppetto.
The intimate Stone Cottage theater at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival is a perfect place for it. The stage of Miniature Curiosa looks like what might happen if a mad scientist played with dollhouses. On a long desk, miniature sets with teeny four-inch paper-puppet characters are hyper-colorful and drawn with askew perspectives. Theyâ€™re stacked on shelves and rotate on platters, rising like warped apartment buildings.
Dorn appears from behind the seeming chaos and begins to spin his self-absorbed tales, diary entries that are, as promised, at times excruciatingly ordinary. Other times theyâ€™re fanciful dreams and Mittyesque fantasies. Off we go on an episodic tale of rivalry among balloon artists, pivoting around the nefarious megalomaniac balloon superstar Lenny. A â€śtwist-off ensues at one point, leaving the Tampa restaurant where they ply their trade for tips â€śscreaming of latex.â€ť
Dornâ€™s character grows as an entertainer once he realizes that his idea of poop puppets is not a good one. As his balloon skills display mastery of the art, heâ€™s is lured to the dark side of ballooning, becoming like his dreaded nemesis Lenny. He leaves the â€śtwisting lifestyleâ€ť when he realizes that itâ€™s the â€śmost humiliating job in history.â€ť Lennyâ€™s bid before Shark Tank to become a balloon-puppet impresario is crushed, leaving his victims vindicated.
Woven through it is Dornâ€™s battle to get an $850 security deposit back from his Turkish ex-landlord Chaz Elliot. Segues between tales are recordings that fans allegedly left on the Elliotâ€™s answering machine. Thereâ€™s a short bit being booed for his lame six-second tale at a saddest-story contest that comes out of nowhere and leaves. A section on hanging out with celebrities is similarly superfluous.
Literature, itâ€™s not. The charm of Miniature Curiosa is watching how the low-tech theatrical magic is done, with jaw-dropping admiration for Dorn being able to talk rapidly while manipulating a myriad of props. The stories may be ordinary; the techniques are anything but. There were many â€śwhoaâ€ť comments from the audience Saturday night at the displays of ambidextrous storytelling.
With a small, digital, hand-held camera Dorn narrates while video projections appear on a screen above the set. He zooms through the sets of houses and streets, all of a hyper-colorful, crazy off-kilter design. He holds a stick puppet in front of the sets for the more active characters.
Some parts of the vignettes are entirely shadow puppets and provide a nice rest for the eyes. Flip books are done slow (Ăˇ la Demetri Martin), with the images used to give punchlines to the narrative, or flipped rapidly by a mechanical device to create live animation. Throughout the whole thing, puppets with strings never appear. The only string is the floss Zorn uses in a gag that opens and closes the show.
The constant ricochet between storytelling and speaking to the audience, between the balloon artistsâ€™ story arc and all the rest, and the contradictory emotionality of Dornâ€™s character, is dazzlingâ€”and exhaustive. It keeps audience intimacy at bay. A Miniature Curiosa piece that creates one world and allows viewers to become deeply absorbed in it would be a superb modern recreation of fairy tales that seems vital for today.
- 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 10
View complete Out of the Loop Fringe FestivalÂ hereÂ